Home News From rogue to victim: How Australia views Julian Assange

From rogue to victim: How Australia views Julian Assange

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange received a hero’s welcome even before he returned to his native Australia after pleading guilty on Wednesday to felony charges of violating U.S. espionage laws.

Australian politicians issued statements in support of the plea deal that allowed him to regain his freedom, and former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, now Australia’s ambassador to the United States, even appeared with him in a U.S. court on the Pacific island of Saipan.

It seems fitting that Assange’s case ended in a faraway outpost — the capital of the Northern Mariana Islands, a commonwealth closely tied to the United States through post-World War II imperialism.

he Ending the deadlock Fourteen years ago, he published classified military and diplomatic documents that revealed secret details of U.S. espionage and the killing of civilians during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and engaged with U.S. governments far from Washington.

At the time, he was a controversial figure — to some, a courageous journalist; to others, a reckless anarchist who endangered the safety of Americans. He became even more polarizing during the 2016 presidential election, when WikiLeaks published thousands of emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee that had been stolen by Russian hackers.

But after five years in a British prison, when he married and had two children, Assange became a more attractive figure in Australian eyes, an unwitting underdog forced to endure the wrath of a superpower and, in a land of prisoners, a rebel who had served his time and deserved to go home.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the court proceedings to free Assange were “a welcome development”.

“This has been an issue that has been approached with great consideration, patience and prudence, and that is how Australia conducts itself internationally,” he said on Wednesday.

“Whatever you think of Assange’s conduct,” he added, “his case has dragged on for far too long.”

Critics said the response lacked reflection. It ignored Australia’s own espionage laws. The toughest in the democratic worldThe bill carries penalties of up to 25 years in prison and weak protections for journalism. It skirts the Albanese government’s continued resistance to greater transparency of public records and its failure to Strengthening Whistleblower Protection Lawsalthough frustration Handle multiple secret cases.

John Lidberg, an associate professor of journalism at Melbourne’s Monash University who has worked with the United Nations on global press freedom, said he was surprised by the broad political support Assange had. He had somehow united Green and Labor MPs and the Conservative leader at one point. But how?

Lidberg said Australians’ sympathy for Assange began in 2016 when, at the urging of President Trump, Assange was dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy and imprisoned in Belmarsh prison in southeast London.

“His case went from being a hack, a journalism, a publishing, an advocacy to a humanitarian issue,” he said. “It may be that the Australian myth of ‘fair treatment’ came into play. People saw that he was not treated fairly, that he was mistreated.”

The desire to protect journalistic accountability—something many Americans fear Assange’s conviction will do Send threatening messages For journalists and sources – this is not a big issue in Australia because the Australian constitution does not provide for the right to free speech.

James Curran, a history professor at Sydney University and international affairs columnist, said Australians did not necessarily have the same reverence for “the whole culture of secrecy and classified documents” as Americans.

When a bipartisan group of Australian politicians travelled to Washington in October to lobby for Assange, they did not emphasise the need to protect the fourth estate.

“They highlighted that China and Russia were using the Assange case to demonstrate blatant hypocrisy in the West’s treatment of political prisoners,” Curran said. “That really got Washington’s attention.”

Law and order in the United States has lost some respect. Many Australians now harbor a quiet dissatisfaction with the US criminal justice system, which they see as overly performative and punitive, with death sentences in some states and long prison sentences in most.

“It’s because of the high incarceration rates, the abuse of the plea bargaining process, and even the conduct of the American police,” said Hugh White, a former Australian defense official and now professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University. “I think even fairly conservative people are skeptical that Assange will get ‘fair treatment’ at the hands of the Justice Department.”

Last year, when Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken visited Brisbane, Australia, for high-level defense talks, he was asked about the Assange case and bristled at the suggestion that he was a victim of American caprice.

Standing at an outdoor podium flanked by military veterans, Blinken said he understood “the concerns and the perspectives of Australians” but it was important “for our friends here” to understand Assange’s “role in one of the largest leaks of classified information in the history of our country.”

His comments sounded defensive and a little arrogant to many Australians. Australia and the United States remain allies who have fought side by side in past wars and are now building a collective defense framework to deter potential Chinese aggression. But Blinken’s tone made Assange a representative of another element in Australia’s relationship with the United States: an enduring ambivalence about American exceptionalism.

“To some extent, this reflects the ambivalence that will always exist between a great power and its smaller satellites, but it is more than that,” White said.

He added that among conservative, Anglocentric Australians, some resent the United States for replacing the British Empire after World War II. Others believe the United States is often too quick to dismiss the concerns of its allies, and by proceeding with the prosecution of Assange, “the United States looks overly vindictive,” he said.

Make America stand down—and Listen more humbly — It seems to be something that Australian politicians are keen to celebrate. In addition to Mr Albanese, rural conservative MPs and Green Party liberals have also praised Mr Assange’s release. Mr Rudd smiled so much during his court appearance that he was mistaken for a defense lawyer.

Yet their triumphant mood may still fade. Will the next round of leaks reveal secrets about Australia? What if Assange and WikiLeaks choose a side that most Australians don’t support in the US election or the war in Ukraine?

“WikiLeaks has arguably helped Trump and Putin more than anyone else and put people’s lives at risk,” Curran said. “That doesn’t really seem to be a focus of debate in Australia.”

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